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How to Control Dreams

Dreams are one of the best known and most faithful manifestations of the unconscious and that makes us feel a great attraction for its world and its secrets. In waking state, we remember only small parts of the content of all that ephemeral but vast dream material. What exactly are dreams? Why do we dream what we dream? Can we dream what we want? Imagine the possibility of dreaming precisely what you want: places, people, memories, animals ... In this Psychology-Online article, we explain how to control dreams.

Can dreams be controlled?
The content of dreams is usually random and made up of disorganized sequences. In dreams, scenes often appear discontinuous, intermittent, interrupted and confused. In addition to these main characteristics, dreams usually manifest themselves without any relation to previous or known experiences: scenes that have no relation to each other, or to incompatible dream material.

Dreams are often confusing and superfluous in appearance. For this reason, we often consider ignoring and forgetting them, especially if they have caused some kind of disturbance or discomfort. But, paradoxically, content related to the dreamer's unconscious appears in dreams. Unpleasant content can manifest itself, but also content that is gratifying and pleasant originating from the deepest desires and longings (but often socially or morally shameful).

Some people have also found great pleasure in the dream world and express a great desire to stay longer in a dream. These people have learned to control the dream world through a kind of dreams known as dreams Lucid. Here we explain more about what lucid dreams are and how to get to have them, so you will learn to control dreams.

What are lucid dreams
A lucid dream is simply being aware of what you are dreaming about. These types of dreams are often experienced in childhood and after experiencing sleep paralysis.

In lucid dreams, people can become aware that what they are experiencing is a dream manifestation and, by being aware of this, they can also achieve the manipulation of these dreams , that is, the person is able to create all the material (scenes and people) voluntarily.

For example, a person who experiences a lucid dream can stage someone with whom it is difficult to relate (a famous person, former partners, deceased relatives ...) and perform common actions in the waking state (conversations, share a coffee, walk, even have sex with them).

Some people not only use these dreams to experience pleasure, but also to stage content such as a traumatic scene (accidents, rapes, abandonments ...) in order to heal or restructure all this unconscious material.

There are people who have also used lucid dreaming as a source of creativity. For example, the famous painter Salvador DalĂ­ used the "spoon nap" technique, which consists of holding a spoon between the hand and a plate just below it, when falling asleep the spoon would fall and hit the plate, waking up the painter. In this way, the artist painted the images he saw before waking up.

Some people have been induced to lucid dreams by simple experience, such as flying, jumping great distances, diving, skydiving, and many other experiences.

What is a oneironaut
An onironaut is the name by which a person who acquires a state of consciousness similar to that of the waking state is known while dreaming , they experience what we call lucid dreams.

Most people experience lucid dreaming throughout their lives. Although they often appear in childhood, there are also people who maintain this ability throughout their lives and very regularly (almost daily).

Oneironauts can bring about this state of lucid dreaming voluntarily through various methods and techniques. This makes oneironauts able to enter a lucid state almost voluntarily and with great success during sleep. Next we will see how to dream what you want.

How to have lucid dreams and control what you dream
Lucid dreams are events that many people want to experience or have ever experienced and would like to do again, so here are some tips to learn how to control dreams:
1. MILD Technique (Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dream)
The MILD technique is one of the most used and effective techniques to induce lucid dreams. It is effective for beginners and expert oneironauts. This technique was developed by Stephen LaBerge and described in his book "Exploring Lucid Dreaming."

In the text, Laberge explains the steps to carry out the technique. In this book, three important psychological processes that are the foundation of the technique are considered: motivation, intention, and association.

In motivation it is important that you ask yourself why you want to achieve lucidity in your dreams. It is a question that must be asked continuously, since it is the one that generates the topic of interest in the dream, and thus the intention is produced to delve into a certain topic.
A sustained intention promotes the will and, therefore, this activity often becomes a habit.
The association is progressively trained as we are able to ask ourselves if we are really in a dream, associating or integrating all the previous elements (critical reflection, reality tests and personal dream signals).
2. Brief awakening
The MILD technique should be put into practice after a period of sleep in which the body has had enough rest. There are people who first sleep 6 hours before practicing, and for others 4 and a half hours is enough.

Miguel Gasca (2017) reminds us that periods of approximately 1 hour and a half are used to measure sleep. This happens because, regularly, a complete sleep cycle , with all its phases, lasts approximately that long. Then there is a brief awakening, of which the person is not usually aware, and then another cycle of sleep begins.

If you manage to achieve lucidity during the first few cycles of sleep, you may feel tired when you wake up. When you sleep, the first cycles are more oriented to the rest of the physical body, and therefore the slow wave phase is longer. On the other hand, in the last sleep cycles the REM phase, which is where most dreams occur , are longer. And therefore there is a better chance that lucidity will be achieved. It is for this reason that most people have achieved this awareness about dreams after a brief awakening to go to the bathroom and go back to bed or to turn off the alarm clock, they even claim to have sleep paralysiswhich are the ones that open the doors to lucidity. Therefore, setting an alarm to have a little awakening and continue sleeping is one of the tricks to dream what you want.

3. Write down dreams
Having a clear intention of lucidity contributes to the success of the technique. Many people use dream diaries , where they write down each one of them in the first moment after waking up, in this way they practice their intention.

4. Yoga
It is another of the alternative techniques to achieve lucidity in dreams. It consists of a state of intermediate consciousness, a physical and mental relaxation.

It consists of relaxation through concentration of consciousness. The steps are very simple to follow, but like the other techniques it requires practice to achieve the level of lucidity.

It is done lying on the back with the eyes closed (some do it blindfolded) the arms separated from the body and the palms of the hands facing upwards. The legs should be open to the width of the hips and the balls of the feet out (to the sides).

Being in the correct position, the attention begins to center inwards; you become aware of the rhythm of your breath and your heartbeat. Later, the focus is on a specific part of the body (such as a leg, a hand or a foot). This awareness explores the body, going muscle by muscle and consciously releasing all tension in sync with a deep breath.

Once this awareness of the body is reached and the tension is canceled, one enters a dreamlike state of serenity. In this state, you begin to focus again on your breath and on each of the dream elements that appear.

5. Identify personal dream signs
It is important that people who wish to initiate the experience of lucid dreaming, that is, controlling dreams, form signals during their waking state that function as triggers during dreams. Personal dream signs are themes that are generally carried with them throughout their lives : fears, desires or longings. For example, some people have stamped vehicles, animals, known people (former partners), shameful events as dream signs ... These signs are often material that occurs in most dreams, that is why it is recommended that when waking up of any type of dream (even if it is not lucid) note the objects, places, people and themes that appearmore than once. Identifying these dream signals will habituate the subconscious to distinguish them the next time they appear.

For example, if you dream about your old partner, it can be used as a trigger to realize that you are dreaming. Next, a reality check should be performed.

6. Take a reality check
Reality tests are performed as a verification method by recognizing any of the triggers (for example, the ex-partner or a room). A reality check would be, for example, trying to put a finger across the palm of your hand , looking at your hand, and looking at signs.

In the waking state, what is being seen is very evident, not in dreams. For example, detecting anomalies when looking at your hands (instead of five fingers there are six), looking at the sky (many times there is more than one moon), seeing signs or hand clocks (seeing it and looking away for a few seconds to see it again , in the second observation of the object the letters have changed).

It is advisable to have two or three reality tests because dreams often deceive us. For example, many times the finger does not cross and thus we can verify with a second test how to jump from the road to the top floor of a fifty-story building. Some people use extreme reality tests because it works for them or because they are the ones they learned to test with. For example, hurting your skin.

These reality tests are actions that are carried out in the waking state as well as in the dream to know if we are awake or asleep. When there is something unexpected, you have to do a reality test because in dreams there are many unexpected things.

7. Reflect and ask
We all have that feeling of knowing that we are awake but that it can be transferred to sleep (we feel that we are awake in sleep and what it causes are false awakenings). The antidote to this deception is to ask ourselves throughout the day: "Am I awake or asleep now?" , and then perform a reality test such as looking around to see if everything is stable. The difference from the waking state is precisely the stability, since in the dream most things are unstable.

A well-known reference in reality tests is the one used in the movie Inception, directed by Chritopher Nolan where they have Totems (fetish objects that serve as reality tests) such as using a coin that has written words.

Sleep study
Lucid dreaming is like a hybrid state between sleep and wakefulness. In ordinary dream the prefrontal cortex of the brain is inactive, in lucid dreaming it is more active and it is for this reason that we are able to control or be aware of dreams.

The study of human sleep is done in a sleep laboratory. These are generally located in medical centers and consist of one or more bedrooms adjoining an observation room, which is where the experimenter spends the night. The experimenter prepares the subject to be observed by placing electrodes on the scalp, chin, and outer edge of the eyes.

Electrodes placed on the scalp allow electrical activity in the brain to be recorded using an EEG.
On the other hand, the electrodes placed on the chin make it possible to detect muscle activity by means of an electromyogram.
While the electrodes located at the extreme edge of the eyes record eye movements using an electrooculogram.
In addition to these, other electrodes and devices can be used to record neurovegetative measurements such as heart rate and respiration.
During a normal night, most of us experience five phases of sleep , which are phase 1, 2, 3, 4 and the REM phase of sleep (short for Rapid Eye Movement ) also known by its acronym in Spanish "el REM sleep »(Rapid Eye Movement Dreams).

Sleep researchers have described four types of brain waves involved in the different phases of sleep:

Beta waves
Alpha waves
Theta waves
Delta waves
Specific patterns of muscle activity, blood pressure, and body temperature are observed in each phase of sleep. Just as our waking state is marked by characteristic patterns of these brain waves.

The waking state is characterized by two different types of brain waves which are Beta waves and Alpha waves.

The Beta waves are waves of low altitude and high frequency observed when a person is fully awake and alert. In addition, they have irregular electrical activity and occur between 13 and 30 cycles per second.
On the other hand we have Alpha waves , which are larger waves and are more synchronized than Beta waves. They are observed when a person is relaxed , with the eyes closed and also present a moderate frequency electrical activity and occur between 8 and 12 cycles per second.

Phases of sleep and brain waves
In what phase of sleep do we dream? Each of the sleep phases and in which of them dreams are experienced is explained in depth below.

Sleep phase 1
Phase one of sleep is a transitional phase from wakefulness to sleep that usually lasts a few minutes. During this phase, most of us are easily awakened by noise or some other disturbances.

During phase 1 a pattern of Theta waves emerges , which are synchronized waves larger than Beta and Alpha waves, and occur at 4 to 7 cycles per second. So when a person begins to fall asleep, the heart rate slows down, the eyes can swing from one side to the other and the muscles relax, even small muscle jerks can occur that sometimes wake the person up.

Sleep phase 2
In this phase, two different EEG patterns are observed; here we can locate the different spindles or sigmas of sleep (which we can also find with their name in English: spindles) and, on the other hand, we have the K complexes.

The spindles sleep are short bursts or sets of waves from 12 to 14 cycles per second, occurring between 2 and 5 times per minute during sleep stages 1, 2, 3 and 4. On the other hand we have the K complexes , which are sharp and sudden waves that, unlike the sleep spindles, can only or are usually only observed in phase 2 of sleep. K complexes occur spontaneously, with a frequency of approximately 1 per minute, but can often be caused by noise (especially unexpected noise). It has even been shown that the K complexes triggered by some auditory stimulus represent an inhibition mechanism that appears to protect the sleeper from awakening. Thus, as we fall asleep, brain activity slows down, then increases, then slows down again, and so on.
Thus we understand that sleep spindles and K complexes reflect the transition from being awake to being asleep.

Sleep phase 3
Sleep phases 3 and 4 are known as slow wave dreams. In phase 3, breathing and heart rate decrease, muscles also relax, and it is difficult to wake the sleeping person.

The deep relaxation phase 3 can cause problems like bedwetting. Also, keep in mind that as sleep becomes deeper, brain activity changes from a high-frequency, small-amplitude wave to a low-frequency, high-amplitude wave.

Thus, these slow waves with high peaks that are observed in phase 3 are called Delta waves , these waves present a synchronized electrical activity of less than 4 cycles per second.

Sleep phase 4
In phase 4, the low-frequency, high-amplitude delta waves take over and the person is in a deep sleep. The following physiological parameters are at their lowest point: heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. For this reason some researchers have associated phase 4 with coma or unconsciousness, but curiously, sleep phases 3 and 4 are the phases in which people are more likely to walk, since in this phase there is moderate muscle tone.

REM phase
It is named for the rapid eye movements that sleepers perform during this phase. REM sleep is the setting in which story-type dreams that include most nightmares occur. During the REM phase, the brain begins to miss very fast bursts of waves (heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing increase and become irregular).

During this phase, the absence of muscle tone is also observed, which implies physical movement.

The interesting thing about the REM phase is that the brain activity of a person in REM sleep resembles that of a person who is fully awake, even though the person is in deep sleep. Thus, the recording of an electroencephalogram in REM sleep resembles that of an awake person , that is, both states show Beta activity or Beta waves.

During a normal sleep cycle , a person goes from being awake to the phases of sleep, that is, the subject goes from light sleep (phase 1) to the deep sleep of phases 3 and 4 and then descends again through the stages (It goes from phase 4 to phase 3, then to phase 2 and returns to phase 1). People enter REM sleep on their first return to phase 1 sleep. Most people go through 4 to 5 cycles and each cycle lasts about an hour and a half , we wake up and go back to sleep. But of those awakenings we are not aware.

When we fall asleep, an area of the brain stem is deactivated to not make the movements we do when we are dreaming.

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